A Parisian shopkeeper stays late to redecorate her display window.

I captured this shopkeeper in the Latin Quarter of Paris prepping her window at midnight for the next day’s shoppers.

The three concerns I hear most from business leaders and communicators about their brands:

  1. No one knows what our brand story is.
  2. We have a solid brand, but our story isn’t clear.
  3. I wish I could get everyone pulling in the same direction around our brand story.

What I’ve learned in 30 years of advertising, 20 years running my own ad agency, and the past 10+ years studying what great screenwriters, authors and brand raconteurs know about storytelling is that you have to own your story first before you will ever get anyone else to buy into it.

And that takes courage.

Do you believe in what you’re doing, or are you living someone else’s story?

Do you honestly share your story from your heart, with a personal passion that drives your professional pursuit?

Does your brand story authentically portray what you’re up to?

Do you put your back into it?

10 questions to determine your brand story ownership

1. Do you own your #1 position in the market – what you do better than anyone else?

0762247I worked with Karina Tarin, a young marketing consultant in Oxford, England. She wanted to stand out in a crowded industry. I learned that her personal passion is being a painter. She has a degree in psychology. And she is adept at understanding complex subjects, connecting the dots, and clarifying the message through her talents as a strategist and writer.

We combined her three traits into a powerful brand position statement: Karina will help you grow your business by tapping into how your customer’s mind is designed to buy. Karina now owns her story, which will make it much easier to tell and grow her business.

2. Are you confident in knowing who your story is for?

Unknown-1When you own your story, you gift it to others so they can make it their own, too. They’re living through and learning from it. I just recorded an episode of the Business of Story podcast with national radio host, author and life coach, Jennifer Keitt.

Of her three primary points about owning your story, #2 works here: “You can’t be for everybody.” You must focus on your audience, empathize with their needs, and deliver. Knowing your audience comes from owning your story.

3. Are you clear on what’s at stake for you and your audience?

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 9.14.43 AMWhen Avein Tafoya, CEO of Adelante Healthcare, came to us in 2008 to help reimagine the Clinica Adelante brand story for the community health center, she was clear that remaining in the status quo could be the death of the organization.

Avein also knew it might be a struggle to get the staff and the board of directors, some whom had been around since its inception 30 years earlier, to buy into a new story.

We arrived at – and she declared – her organization’s #1 position as a leader in sustainable healthcare with the stakes of: Sustaining the availability of healthcare for all • Sustaining individual and community health • Sustaining the health of the organization by greening their practices.

Adelante Healthcare has grown by more than 300 percent in the past five years because Avein owns their new story, which enables those around her to buy into it and make it their own.

4. Do you embrace tension and disruption to fuel your story?

You can’t sell into status quo unless you are the low-price leader. And who wants to be that, save Walmart? Do you have the courage to disrupt the market with your brand offering, or respond to a disruption that makes you more timely, relevant and irresistible than your competition?

How do you respond to this call to adventure, and how do you declare this strength in your unique value proposition? fedexFedEX owns the tension we can experience when sending an important package: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

5. Are you the victim of – or the victor over – the obstacles and antagonists in your way?

You want something, life punches you in the nose. You pivot, and go after it again. All of our characters are constantly tested by the villains, fog and crevasses that stand in our way. If you own your brand story like Domino’s Pizza did in 2010, when their product was described as cardboard, you deal with it.

6. Do you own and deliver on your story promise?

Owning your brand story means walking the talk. Ride sharing pioneer, Uber, promises that it’s the smartest way to get around. I just returned from working with a biotech firm in the Bay Area, and I Ubered (When your brand becomes a verb, it’s a good sign you own your story) it from my house to the airport, and again from San Fran. Int’l to San Rafael. Seamless, cashless, friendly transportation. Freedom.

The next day I had to take a cab from Marin County back to the airport. My bill was over $150. I spent a total of $90 for my other three Uber rides combined (including home from Phoenix Sky Harbor airport). Yep. I feel smarter in an Uber. Their promise fulfilled because they own it!

7. Do you own the trials and tribulations on your journey?

Overnight sensation! How did they do it? They came out of nowhere. Bullshit. Do you own what it really takes to succeed? The 10,000 hours of blood, sweat and beers. I thought the Beatles got their start in Liverpool’s Cavern. But they were actually birthed in the West Derby Village basement pictured below. Then off to Hamburg, Germany for endless days and nights of honing their sound. Back to the Casbah Coffee Club (this basement), and then to The Cavern.

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When you truly own your brand story – how you deliver for your customers and the highs and lows you have to go through every day to rock it – then you have a story worth living into.

8. How do you own the small victories?

God knows we get enough wounds on the trail. So how do you celebrate the wins? Owning your brand story means you’ve mapped the mile markers and you know and appreciate the progress you are making.

Charity: Water started in 2006 with one guy (Scott Harrison) who used one of his birthdays to raise money to dig one fresh water well in Africa. Today, the organization has helped fund 19,819 projects in 24 countries, benefiting over 6.1 million people because they owned their story one birthday, one dollar, one well and one life at a time.

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9. Do you own your purpose?

Does your brand story revolve around making money or honey? Money is usually scarcity-minded. Honey is about abundance; that sweet spot where you and your brand are leveling up all of those around you. The best example I’ve found to backup this concept is in Jim Stengel’s bookGrow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies.

UnknownHe lists the brand ideals of 50 major brands that outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 400 percent during the recession. Stengel’s premise is that  these brands provide a higher order value to their customers lives, and therefore thrive even during the worst of times.

Pampers, for instance, exists to help mothers care for their babies’ healthy, happy development.

Zappos exists to deliver happiness through “wow” service.

Jack Daniel’s exists to celebrate and evoke pride in personal authenticity. What purpose does your brand exist to fulfill and how do you own it in the stories you tell and live?

10. Do you own your brand story ritual?

Are you all in with your brand story like Bob Daily is? He is the Chief Scooping Officer at Pet Butler. Their story: We scoop poop.

Bob and his wife moved from California where was Chief Encouragement Officer at a large mortgage bank, to Chandler, AZ, where they bought Pet Butler. Bob owns his role as Chief Scooping Officer, and their business is growing by servicing a brand ritual as sure as the sun rises and sets. He’s all in.

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How to own your brand story

If you want to own your brand story so that others will buy into it, I can help.  Download this interactive brand story strategy workbook.

It will help you clarify your brand story. Plus, I have included a short tutorial video for each of the Story Cycle steps to make it easier than ever to own your story.

And if you’re not 100% satisfied, I will refund your investment. That’s how I own it.

Story on!